Thursday, September 23, 2010

The art of "Invisible Hands"

"Invisible Hands" was a six-part animated serial which aired on MTV in the early 1990s. MTV had hired Colossal Pictures, an animation studio located in the Bay Area (where I was, too) to produce Liquid Television, a show that would feature lots of new animation. After one of the producers saw "Invisible Hands" in Night Drive, my first (self-published) comic, which was then selling at City Lights and other independent bookstores in the San Francisco area, I was hired to write and draw an expanded version for their show. The first season of Liquid TV was to consist of six episodes, and "Invisible Hands," which I had written as a tongue-in-cheek version of old-time mystery thrillers, would run in each episode as two-minute chapters of a complete 12-minute serial.

So I went to work expanding the story, drawing the story-boards and lots of new art. Then I'd drive them over to Colossal where the staff would blow up my drawings onto colored paper. Next, the director, Denis Morella, made the art come alive by photographing the cut-outs (which were positioned on three layers of glass to give the illusion of depth) using stop-motion. It was pretty primitive, I guess, but I really liked the jerky effect that resulted.

"Invisible Hands" was shown a lot on MTV during the early 1990s, sometimes even in a complete 12-minute version. MTV & Colossal kept all the original artwork I did, but luckily I made a bunch of photocopies, which, I recently realized, I've never shown before. So, here are a few for now. I can post some more soon, as well as some of the storyboards.

At the top is my drawing for the opening credits. Next, the original promotional postcard, advertising the debut of Liquid TV, with a scene from "IH" (the costume party) on the front, followed by more of my drawings -- characters, interiors & exteriors --- before they were transferred to colored paper.

I used to get asked about this serial a lot. It's never been on video in either VHS or DVD (there are reasons) though other Liquid TV animations were. However, it has been on YouTube for a long time now, so I don't get asked about it as much as I once did. I'm just glad that folks can (finally) see it again if they want to. And I hope some people may enjoy a look at the drawings I did for it.

(note: Animated version of "Invisible Hands" is copyright MTV & Colossal Pictures. Print version of "Invisible Hands" is copyright Richard Sala)


  1. My apologies to the folks who were nice enough (and quick enough!) to comment on the first version of this post, which I had to delete to make some revisions. My sincere apologies! I appreciate every comment I get, so it hurts to lose any! -- RS

  2. I ate this series up back when it was on MTV. In fact I still have a home made copy of it that I transferred over to DVD and it still gets a lot of play on my TV. I simply could not get enough of the art, the characters, or the tongue in cheek story. IH was a huge influence on me over the years and my when I doodle in my notebooks, on my whiteboard, or in my sketchbooks, I often think back to Invisible Hands.

  3. Exclamations from Invisible Hands gained currency among my friends and persisted for years.

    "Yow! A pair of human eyes!"

    "I've travelled halfway around the world, and waited six long years for this moment!" BLAM! "Ah, satisfaction."

    "Ah, Mr. Z! Hold still while I plug you!"

    Nobody had a copy of the shows. We just kept them alive in our imagination for decades. It was a happy moment in my life when I discovered them all on Youtube.

  4. Invisible Hands blew my mind as a was my favorite thing on Liquid TV along with Beyer's Thomas and Nardo. The reason I got interested in Underground comics, really, as this was my first exposure to this stuff. Richard, 15 years or so later, you are still an inspiration!

  5. Hey Buddy! Posting macabre mystery treats during Halloween season on Spy Vibe and linked Invisible Hands clips back here. Such a fun project. You ever tempted to see more of your work animated? I like the look of paper stop-motion in that old series. -Jason (Spy Vibe)

  6. why wont it ever be on dvd??mtv is putting maxx and the head out on dvd this month..i have a ?? mr sala...was invisible hands ever shown b4 liquid tv was on the air..i remmeber the 1st season shorts being on mtv b4 liquid tv was ever on

  7. Invisible Hands coupled with Joe Horne's Specialists were my main reason for watching Liquid TV. I used to have the entire Invisible Hands liquid extract on VHS but it's been long lost for ages now. More recently I found someone with home taped copies of all the LTV episodes, so I got to see your serial as well as the rest of the series for the first time since It was being shown.

  8. I just got down in my current stack of books to Mad Night and as I was reading it, I said to myself "This has got to be the same guy who did Invisible Hands" even though I hadn't seen it in at least ten years. It's too bad it isn't on any of the official Liquid Television releases! But I think I will probably buy some more of your graphic novels in the future. It's right up my alley.

  9. This series is finally available online, at great quality

    I'm a huge fan of IH and I still say "Ahhh, satisfaction" in real life situations, after all these years :)

  10. After many years I have finally seen this in its entirety, terrific, terrific work on all fronts, it brought back a lot memories and glad to have found your blog and more of your great creations Richard!

  11. I found this blogspot while looking to procure the entire Invisible Hands serial. I remember it from my youth. As amazing as Liquid Television was... Invisible Hands held a special place. It hit all the right spots to conjure up a novel antiquity. It was a big inspiration to me later as a budding artist. I will be looking for more of your work